Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 28/2021 – July 19-25

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of July 19-25. More Facebookers were arrested last week for their online posts. Trinh Ba Phuong finally got to see a lawyer after 13 months in jail. One woman had her sentence reduced due to a mental health prognosis. The health of some prisoners is deteriorating due to prolonged hunger strikes. Charities for political prisoners are the new target of the government. The EU-VN free trade agreement is at risk as Vietnam failed to form its DAG. COVID-19 has been causing chaos in Vietnam as the United States donates 3 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will visit Viet Nam in the last week of July.



Political Prisoners

Trinh Ba Phuong

Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, Thu Do, said her husband was finally allowed to see his lawyer, Luan Le, for the first time. He also received letters and photographs sent by the family. Phuong said he was in good health and has maintained his right to remain silent throughout the investigation period. He sent his sincerest thanks to everyone who’s been advocating on his behalf. 

Nguyen Van Lam

Facebooker Nguyen Van Lam, 51, was sentenced to nine years in prison on July 20. Lam was convicted by the Nghe An Court of “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117. Since 2014, Lam has allegedly shared many posts from pro-democracy sites such as Radio Free Asia, Attorney Nguyen Van Dai… The state media did not disclose whether he had seen a lawyer. Lam was arrested in November 2020.

A Hanoi court has sentenced Facebooker Tran Hoang Minh to five years in prison for 51 posts about the Dong Tam incident. He was charged with “abuse of democratic freedoms” and accused of making online threats of violence. However, state media did not disclose whether Minh had been represented by lawyer at his trial on July 20.

Tran Thi Thuy, ex-head of a law firm in Hanoi, was sentenced to 20 months in prison for “abuse of democratic freedoms” under Article 331. State-owned media also stated that Thuy “wrote two documents that hurt the prestige and honour of several Party and State leaders and sent them to ministries and agencies, thus exerting pressure on them to follow her proposal.”

Facebooker Phan Huu Diep Anh, 60, was arrested for his postings about pandemic news, particularly a video of a man who immolated himself in Thu Duc. Anh was identified by the Cybersecurity Investigation Unit and has been charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” 

This week we remember the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners: 

Nguyen Quang Vinh

  • Online commentator and electrical trades worker Nguyen Quang Vinh, arrested July 27, 2020, and in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Montagnard Chrisitan activist Y Hriam Kpa, arrested July 30, 2015, and serving seven years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Religious freedom and legal activist Nguyen Bac Truyen, arrested July 30, 2017, and serving 11 years in prison for “subversion”
  • Writer Pham Van Troi, arrested July 30, 2017, and serving seven years in prison for “subversion”
  • Journalist Truong Minh Duc, arrested July 30, 2017, and serving 12 years in prison for “subversion”
  • Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, arrested July 30, 2017, and serving 12 years in prison for “subversion”
  • A group of activists, some of whom are members of the Hien Phap constitutional rights group, tried on July 31, 2020, and sentenced to between two and a half and eight years in prison each. They are: Ngo Van Dung, Hoang Thi Thu Vang, Tran Thanh Phuong, Doan Thi Hong, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, Ho Dinh Cuong, Do The Hoa, and Le Quy Loc

Activists at Risk

Photo of Nguyen Quang A

Nguyen Quang A

The Conscience Fund, started four years ago by Dr Nguyen Quang A to help families of political prisoners, announced that it had to close down its account. A explained that because he opened the account under his name, he needed to avoid “the possibility that bad actors might send in donations and try to mess me up.” Back in April Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder of another POC charity called The 50K Fund, was arrested for “anti-state propaganda.”

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is believed to be in ill health due to his prolonged hunger strike. His family is concerned that he missed the scheduled phone call last week. Meanwhile, Hoang Duc Binh was able to call his family. His brother Hoang Nguyen reported that Binh is in poor health due to the mini-hunger strike that he and a group of prisoners have been holding for over 85 days where they don’t eat prison food but only food sent in by the family.

International Advocacy

EU DAG denounces arrests of NGO leaders: The EU Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) has reiterated in no uncertain terms that Vietnam’s failure to set up its DAG is a clear violation of the EVFTA: “The European Commission has the responsibility to ensure the full implementation of the agreement. Last month, deploring this failure, the EU DAG already stressed that the ‘Civil society engagement and scrutiny of the EVFTA is not an optional element of the agreement.’ This time the EU DAG stressed that it is not only not an optional element, ‘but is actually an essential element of the agreement [1].” Indeed, the respect of human rights is an essential part of the agreement, and their violation could lead the EU to take all appropriate measures.


In Vietnam, the Party’s Rolling Crackdown on Dissent Continues, Stewart Rees, The Diplomat, July 23, 2021: “Proponents of the free trade deal hoped the agreement would nudge Vietnam towards greater respect for human rights. Evidence so far suggests it has failed to do so. Instead, the government is currently preparing legislation to compel social media platforms to provide contact information for popular live-streamers. It is claimed that the legislation will help combat ‘fake news,’ but it seems highly likely that critics of the regime could also be targeted. The 88 Project estimates that 22 critics have been arrested since January, while 19 have received prison sentences. For some time, Vietnam has been one of the world’s most repressive countries for journalistic independence and freedom of speech. Recent events suggest it will remain so for some time to come.”

Why did the Vietnamese Communist Party suppress anti-China nationalism?, Son Nguyen, Asia Democracy Chronicles, July, 2021: “In a 2014 research essay, political scientist Tuong Vu, professor at the University of Oregon, examines contemporary anti-China nationalism in Vietnam as well as the Vietnamese regime’s responses. Entitled, ‘The Party v. the People: Anti-China Nationalism in Contemporary Vietnam,” the essay argues that the suppression of anti-China nationalism is in line with the VCP’s international communist ideology, despite the Party’s nationalist image. This article focuses on explaining the VCP’s repressive actions by analyzing their understanding of communism and nationalism.”

US defence chief to visit security partners Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam to show commitment to Southeast Asia, Raissa Robles, South China Morning Post, July 20, 2021: “US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is set to visit the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam this weekend on his first trip to Southeast Asia, in a bid to reinforce Washington’s presence in the region – but while experts say this will be a tough sell, there is the possibility of progress on security with Manila. ‘This is an effort by the Biden administration to show the region matters to the United States,’ said Dr Renato de Castro, an international relations professor at De La Salle University in Manila. He said there was a perception among countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that Washington had ‘ignored and neglected’ the region, despite it being ‘one of the battlegrounds of their strategic competition’.”

Joint Statement from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the State Bank of Vietnam, July 19, 2021: “U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen and State Bank of Vietnam Governor Nguyen Thi Hong met virtually today. At the conclusion of their meeting, Secretary Yellen and Governor Hong issued the following joint statement: The United States and Vietnam are trusted partners with friendship grounded in mutual respect.  In keeping with this strong partnership, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) share the goals of maintaining the strength, stability, development, and resilience of each country’s economy and financial system. Treasury and the SBV have had constructive discussions in recent months through the enhanced engagement process, and reached agreement to address Treasury’s concerns about Vietnam’s currency practices as described in Treasury’s Report to Congress on the Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States.”

U.S. donates 3 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses to Vietnam, Reuters, July 22, 2021: “The U.S. government will send 3 million more doses of the Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam on Thursday, bringing total donations to the Southeast Asian country to 5 million, a White House official said. The next batch of shots is due to arrive in Vietnam this weekend as the country battles its worst coronavirus outbreak of the pandemic. After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam is now seeing a surge in daily infections to record levels.”


Please watch and share this interview with land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, conducted shortly before his June 2020 arrest. This intimate video covers a variety of topics, ranging from his background to his relationship with his wife and his dreams and aspirations for Vietnam. 

This interview paints a deeper picture of Phuong than what observers may see through bits of his social media posts, state media articles, and the rare international news piece, and allows Phuong to tell his story in his own words. 

The 88 Project aims to showcase the multi-faceted lives of activists in order to press for their release and pass on their wisdom to a larger audience. We hope that viewers will understand the critical societal and personal reasons why Phuong and other political prisoners should be freed. 


© 2021 The 88 Project